March 22, 2012

Sylvester Stallone, it seems, will not make a movie today unless he can monkey around with it. He did an on-location rewrite of First Blood that turned a screenplay examining the effects of Agent Orange on some vets into a dumb (if sometimes brutally effective) hunt movie.

Then he trashed Staying Alive, which he rewrote and directed, by creating an appalling hybrid of Flashdance and his Rocky films.

Somewhere Stallone must have read that drama is built on conflict. Unfortunately, Stallone’s character clashes exist just for the purpose of creating meaningless friction. One of the reasons Staying Alive died at the box office after its huge opening weeks was that Stallone had dragged the film down with dreary, senseless exchanges between John Travolta and his female co-stars.

Rhinestone, which Stallone rewrote, has these same dopey disagreements. There’s no reason for Stallone (playing a New York cab driver) and Dolly Parton (playing a country-western singer) to bicker, but they’re periodically given irrelevant excuses to do so.

Parton is a singer in a Manhattan club owned by a weasel (Ron Leibman); he handles Dolly’s career and would like to handle much more of her. She makes a bet with him: If she can take the first person they see, and turn him into a country singer who can last through a single song on the stage of Leibman’s rowdy club, Leibman has to release her from her contract.

If she doesn’t do it, then Leibman gets to extend her contract—and he gets a no-strongs roll in the hay.

Of course, the first person they see is uncouth Italian hack Stallone, and Dolly carts him down to her Southern home town to teach him how to be Country in two weeks’ time. There ensue some amusing adventures, although the gags sometimes have a condescending attitude toward the South that becomes rather smug.

After Stallone’s first rehearsal with Dolly’s pickers and fiddlers—in which he screams an eardrum-bursting version of “Devil with the Blue Dress On”—Dolly’s father (Richard Farnsworth, adorable as always) sidles up to Stallone and levels with him: “That was scary, son.” I can’t improve on that.

But Stallone gets a taste of country when he goes on a drinking bout with a local singer (Tim Thomerson). Their drunk scene is one of the funniest in the movie, but Thomerson is later thrown away as an interesting supporting character so he can be a villain and Stallone can punch him out. Actually, Parton punches him out first.

Rhinestone does make the effort to depict Parton as a perfectly self-sufficient, independent person, and the cast (under the direction of Bob Porky’s Clark) has fun with the fact that she often grabs the initiative before Stallone has a chance.

If you have any doubts about how the film ends, then you’ve never seen a Rocky movie. However, by the time we get to the finish, we’re worn out from the arbitrary crises that crop up time and again. Besides, the film has already had one climax: Before they leave the South, Stallone gets a try-out in front of Parton’s home-town crowd. They sing a delightful duet (something like, “I Don’t Want to Fall in Love, I Just Want to Fall in Bed”—like all the film’s songs, written by Parton) and bring the house down.

It would have been nice if the film had ended there. A subject this wispy shouldn’t have to be stretched to more than 90 minutes. But like Stallone’s showy, wisecracking performance, the movie doesn’t know when to stop.

First published in the Herald, June 1984

I don’t really know what else to say. The movie doesn’t exactly haunt my dreams, but you’d think that somebody might have been able to take the raw ingredients and actually make something fun out of it.